Cy­cling in Port­land

Rid­ing a bike in Port­land City, Ore­gon, is stress-free thanks to its top en­viro sta­tus and made in­ter­est­ing due to its unique weird­ness.

Good - - CONTENTS - Words Kelly Lynch

Ex­plor­ing the ‘weird’ city on two wheels

Grown men rac­ing kids’ bikes down a steep road sounds like a crazy one-off stunt. Only in Port­land, Ore­gon, it’s a reg­u­lar thing. Ev­ery Sun­day af­ter­noon a group of adults grab some small bikes suit­able for seven-year-olds, then pedal them down­hill like ma­ni­acs. They’re ‘zoobombers’ and their an­tics align tightly with the city’s motto ‘Keep Port­land Weird’.

The city has the most cy­clists per capita in the US. In 2008, it be­came the first ma­jor US city to achieve a Plat­inum Bi­cy­cle Friendly Com­mu­nity des­ig­na­tion from the League of Amer­i­can Bi­cy­clists. Prov­ing it’s a fun and safe ride, tour guide Crys­tal from Pedal Bike Tours lead us on a city jaunt. Her clear hand sig­nals guided us through in­ter­sec­tions and her con­fi­dence rubbed off on our eight-yearold daugh­ter who cy­cled di­rectly be­hind.

We rode along­side Wil­liamette River, view­ing some of its 12 bridges. Burn­side Bridge has two tur­rets posted ei­ther side of its draw­bridge. Run­ning north, streets are named al­pha­bet­i­cally and one of them is called Flan­ders (The Simp­sons cre­ator Matt Groen­ing is a Port­lander and it be­came ob­vi­ous he’s used land­marks for a few of his key char­ac­ters).

The city sup­ports 550 kilo­me­tres of

bike ac­cess: bike boule­vards and ded­i­cated green strips in the cen­tre of some roads solely for bik­ers and skate­board­ers. On shared roads, cy­cling be­hind a tram and then merg­ing be­tween large SUVs was un­nerv­ing but driv­ers’ con­sis­tent speed and con­tin­u­ous tol­er­ance was heart­en­ing.

In trendy Pearl district, a worth­while stop is at tran­quil Tan­ner Park. Be­hind a fence made from hun­dreds of re­cy­cled rail­way lines and re­cy­cled glass is an old in­dus­trial area trans­formed back to its orig­i­nal wet­land state. Gold­fish are eas­ily spot­ted in water­ways from wooden bench seats along its zig-zag­ging board­walks. Set be­low the road’s sur­face, it also serves as a stormwa­ter catch­ment.

Dur­ing World War I, Port­land be­came a refuge for Europe’s roses. Now known as the ‘city of roses’ any new rose va­ri­ety is painted on the en­tire side of a build­ing along­side other mu­rals. Cre­ative artists have grav­i­tated to the lib­eral city to make their mark, leav­ing in their wake a hip, easy-go­ing vibe.

Our daugh­ter loved the gi­ant long­stemmed lilies, serv­ing as so­lar-pow­ered street lamps. I loved the Ben­son Bub­blers - drink­ing wa­ter bub­bling into bronze basins. Or­ganic, home-grown and re­cy­cling is syn­ony­mous with Port­land. A shop ‘Made Here’ sells beau­ti­fully crafted Ore­gon wares built to last, ex­cept their food, which we scoff later at an alarm­ing rate.

Across the road, two sto­ries high and spread­ing over an en­tire block, one mil­lion new and used books cram across floor-to-ceil­ing shelves at Pow­ell’s Books. It’s so huge, sec­tions are colour coded, each with its own in­for­ma­tion cen­tre.

Traf­fic sig­nals are op­ti­mised for safer and faster bike travel so we cov­ered a lot of ground. Mouth­wa­ter­ing smells awak­ened our ap­petites when we cy­cled near a row of food carts, a food scene for which Port­land is fa­mous. Its dough­nuts and cof­fee are world-renowned too. Voodoo’s voodoo-doll shaped dough­nuts are ac­com­pa­nied with Pret­zel ‘pins’ and at Stump­town, baris­tas churn out strong, mind-al­ter­ing cof­fee. For some­thing more po­tent, Ore­gon has plenty of or­ganic winer­ies and more than 200 brew­eries.

At the top of Burn­side Road we braked to take in ‘the pile up’. Chained around a pole were nine kids’ bikes wait­ing for Sun­day when the ‘zoobombers’ un­leash them. We were just happy to fin­ish our tour rid­ing calmly down the road cen­tre on a des­ig­nated green strip, the feel­ing leav­ing us em­pow­ered.

“We rode along­side Wil­liamette River view­ing some of its twelve bridges. The city sup­ports 550 kilo­me­tres of bike ac­cess...”

Port­land, Ore­gon, USA

Rac­ing these small bikes down­hill like ma­ni­acs on a Sun­day af­ter­noon aligns tightly with the city’s motto ‘Keep Port­land Weird’.

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